Monday, 1 June 2015

Chartres Meditation 7: The Way of the Cross

The Way of the Cross

Dear Pilgrims

They will look upon the One whom they have pierced.’ We must say this in all truth: it is not for nothing that Christ loved us. He showed us in His Passion how, and how much, He loved: to the point of spilling His own blood for us.

It is by way of the Sacred Heart that we can enter into that love of God, given to us, dying for us, on our account. From the Agony in the Garden of Olives to His death on a Cross, the whole Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is a call to replace self-love with love.

The look which we should direct to the Cross is also a look of truth, taking into account our status as ransomed sinners, a look full of recognition and love for our Redeemer; a look of compassion, so as to suffer with Him, and achieve in ourselves what is lacking in His Passion, as St Paul says: our participation. So, let us gaze upon our Saviour in that redeeming Passion. Let us share it with Him, offer Him the difficulties of this pilgrimage, unite our sufferings to His, so that our gaze may be a union of souls and of hearts, so as to live with Christ, to live for Christ, and so that Christ may live in us.

The Passion begins in the Garden of Olives, with that terrible agony, where Christ really sees, and takes upon Himself, all the sins ever committed, and all those that will be committed until the end of the world. Dear pilgrims, consider that! Christ, true God and true man, suffers in his spirit all the sins of all men of all times in all places, from the time of Adam and Eve until the end of the world. How could we fail to feel for such suffering? And Christ takes this torrent of filth upon Himself so as to save us from it. Then, after this acceptance that must have been so difficult, the Son submits Himself once again into His Father’s hands. We don’t know it from the Gospels, but isn’t it conceivable that the Psalm recited on the Cross may have already been said in the Garden of Olives?

The Arrest and Trial of Jesus
With the arrest of Jesus, we come to the start of the physical violence that will not stop until the Cross. Gratuitous blows, mockery, devilry all flung at this Prophet who was stirring up all Jerusalem only a few days previously. The blows prompt more violence, as the sight of His flowing blood excites their hatred and blood-lust. It escalates and accelerates. Pilate may have thought that the sight of this Man of Sorrows might move the Jews to pity. Perhaps this bloody body, covered with wounds after the scourging, would stimulate some compassion in their hearts? Nothing of the kind: Crucify Him! Crucify Him! And so the Governor of Judaea frees Barrabas the murderer and allows the innocent man to be condemned. Pilate chooses what is politically correct, he will not stand against the crowd and the Sanhedrin. Jesus of Nazareth will be crucified: the greatest injustice in history is underway.

The Carrying of the Cross
And so Christ, exhausted by a night with no sleep, weakened by the Scourging and the Crowning with Thorns, makes His way through the streets of Jerusalem, which He knows so well. He carries the Cross, which is weighed down with the weight of the sins that are being redeemed. This Cross, carried, accepted, embraced, a sign of infamy, has become the sign of victory: but nobody knows that yet. It is by way of this Cross that redemption will be accomplished. But for now, Christ must carry it on his bloody shoulders. Carry, and not drag; take and receive, but not submit to; and so Our Lord makes of this deadly instrument the means of Redemption. Does the Blessed Virgin, who accompanies her Son on His way, see that far? She is probably suffering too much to think about it, at that moment.

The Falls
Our Lord is going to fall three times on the road that leads to Calvary. Not once, as though by chance, but several heavy falls from which Christ will get up again, each time. Of course He is suffering physically, and the road is rough, but Christ wishes, above all, to teach us to get up after we fall into sin. He wants to teach us that Grace will always be there for us, to help us to carry on, on our march towards Heaven, that He seeks our conversion, not our condemnation, even if we fall repeatedly into the same faults; that we must not lose heart. Dear Pilgrims, let us be docile to that Grace, let us be brave in renouncing our sins, let us not be crushed by the weight of our trials. Let us live with Christ, for we are never alone, and along with the Cross, we will always be given the graces necessary to carry it.

The Meeting with Mary
The hostile, noisy crowd has filled the roads; Christ is surrounded by soldiers and weighed down by the Cross, and yet, in the midst of that, two looks meet. Two forces which support each other, which understand each other. Mary cannot get near, but she fixes her gaze on Him, even from a distance. Suddenly their looks meet. He must have felt the presence of the one who gave Him His body, He knows that she will not abandon Him, that she must be nearby in this time of terrible suffering. More than these two looks, it is two souls that speak to each other, that sustain each other. Each fully shares in the suffering of the other. Mary takes upon herself, as much as is possible, the suffering of Jesus. She shares it with Him, to relieve Him of some of the weight of it. Christ suffers even more, because His mother is suffering, but He accepts her support gratefully. Only Mary can really understand and share with Him what is taking place.

The Support of Simon of Cyrene and Saint Veronica
It was getting hotter and hotter on that April morning in Jerusalem, and Christ was thirsty, as He would say from the Cross. Hit thirst was a torment to Him, but a greater torment was His desire to obtain our repentance, our contrition…. Our true conversion, full and entire. Let us therefore follow the suffering Christ through the roads of Jerusalem as we march on our way to Chartres, in a spirit of penitence and union with the Redemption. We must become Simon of Cyrene, whom the Romans made help the condemned man whom they feared would die too soon. Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was well known in the early Christian communities: the man who helped Jesus to carry His Cross. What an honour! What a grace! Of course he would not have understood that immediately. We have to assume that he wanted to get out of it at first; returning as he was from the country for his meal at home. But the Romans were not going to give way, so he had to give in. And then he probably looked at this man, on the ground, on His way to die, covered with blood and pierced by that terrible crown of thorns. And their eyes met, spoke to each other, understood each other. What must have passed between them as they looked at each other; a glance that converted, which overcame all reservation, all doubts. After that glance, Simon accepts and carries Jesus’ cross. Does not Christ ask the same of us? Does He not look at us with that same love, to lead us to our conversion? So that we, in our turn, may truly look at Him? So that, finally, we may be touched by the look of the Christ of Mercy. Let us not close our eyes, nor turn our head aside: let us have the courage to look at our Redeemer, and then act accordingly…

Along with that support, Our Lord is once again consoled in the midst of his terrible ordeal by another woman. A strong woman, whose Faith makes the crowds part and the guards freeze. A brave woman who couldn’t care what people will say about her or think of her. Ah, that worldly concern, that fear of what others will think, which so often stops us from doing the good that we know we should, from acting for the royalty of Christ in total conformity with our Faith. St Veronica is far better than that: she parts the crowd, ignores the guards, and reaches Jesus. He is on the ground, He has fallen again, and the heavy weight of the wood has bloodied his shoulders, as though the scourging were not enough. Jesus, weak now, struggles to pick Himself up. His face is covered with dried blood, with spittle, with sweat and with dust, making Him hard even to recognise. And so, with a completely female gentleness, she wipes that swollen face with the cloth she carries. She too, like Simon of Cyrene, participates in the Passion, and offers her support to the Lamb that is being led to the slaughter.

But here we must insist on this flash of generosity. Simon was forced to help Christ. But it was love and compassion that gave Veronica that courage and that strength.

Jesus consoles the Women of Jerusalem
Because Jesus, even exhausted, bloodied, and apparently defeated and beaten, is still God the Son, the Incarnate Word, He finds within Himself, in the middle of his trials, the strength to comfort the women of Jerusalem. It is He who consoles them, women who had come to mourn his fate. Jesus points once again to the cause of His sufferings: sin. There is only one reason to weep, and that is the fact that we are poor sinners. The Lord calls them to conversion: ‘Weep rather for yourselves and for your children.’ The divine power of Christ means that He is the master of Life, and whatever men are able to do to Him at this particular moment is only possible because He allows them to do it. So in one way, in effect, ‘they know not what they are doing.’ They do not know that it is this condemned man who is directing it all, who is giving His life, while His torturers think that they are taking it from Him. If the All-Powerfulness of Christ is hidden in that moment, He is still freely giving His life to save us, and that gift surpasses that destruction.

Jesus is stripped of his garments
Christ gets to the top of the hill. If He is not already dead, it is because He has decided not to die yet.  His exhaustion is total, inexpressible. And yet, His suffering is not yet over. In fact His torment is just beginning. First, Christ is stripped of His robe. At once, all the wounds of His scourging are reopened. His blood had dried into His robe, and so suddenly our Lord is not only bleeding afresh, but also stripped naked, humiliated, and exposed like a fairground animal. Along with the insults come mockery and sarcasm. That is what the purity and sweetness of the Incarnate Word had to suffer! But once again, Jesus accepts it all, to ransom the display of pornography, to pay the price for the impurity and depravity of all times. And Christ remains silent in the face of all these outrages. There is nothing but silence and prayer, suffering offered in reparation for the offence and the sin.

The Crucifixion
Once He is stripped of His clothes, Christ is seized and thrown onto the wood of the Cross. He is going to be nailed to it. Their understanding of the human body allowed the Romans to know where to place the long nails, to ensure suffering but without ripping the limbs off the body. The crucified man would die of asphyxiation, since He would need to pull on His nailed hands and feet in order to be able to breathe a little. So here are the hammer blows, the nails that pierce hands and feet, severing the nerves. His torturers hold down His arms and His legs so that he cannot withdraw them. Once the condemned man is nailed to the Cross, it has to be stood upright. There is then a terrible jolt as it falls into position in its hole.

Christ has His arms wide open to welcome penitent sinners like the Good Thief. His feet, which walked the roads of Palestine to greet the crowds who went to hear Him, can no longer move. So it is up to us to approach Him. The Cross is set up to reunite Heaven and Earth. And now we see Christ lifted up from the Earth, as He had foretold. And that is also so that our gaze is lifted up towards Heaven.  During these hours of agony on the Cross, the Son of God leaves us His final words. This early afternoon is long and drawn out for the Crucified one, but Christ has not completely accomplished His mission yet.

The crowd can now draw near to the condemned men, now that they are on their crosses. Mary is there, dignified in her grief: Stabat Mater Dolorosa. This time, there are words to accompany the mutual gaze of the Mother and her Son. Jesus, stripped of everything, gives us all He has left to give: His Mother. And, mirroring His concern for the widow with no son whom He met at Naim, He entrusts Mary to St John. In that way, the Son of the Father makes us adoptive children and co-heirs of the Father. In that way, too, Christ gives a new maternity to Our Lady. ‘Here is your mother… and the disciple took her to live with him.’ Jesus gives us the enormous gift of His Mother as the ultimate protector: will we be wise enough to accept the gift, and take her into our homes (chez nous) in our turn? To welcome Mary in our spiritual life is to journey towards Christ with a sure guide; it is to share in Our Lord’s life and get to know Him better; it is to love Jesus with the Heart of Mary.

Death on the Cross
Finally, at the time of His choosing, Christ, the Saviour of the world, returns His Spirit to His Father. This death of love of Jesus on the Cross, this Life offered for the salvation of men, fulfils all the prophecies of the Old Testament. Yes, all is accomplished, all is consummated. The Word of the Trinity has known the abasement of becoming man, has come first of all to announce the Good News of our Redemption, and then to bring that Redemption about by His Passion. His earthly mission is accomplished, and He who is the Light of the World conquers the shadows of death and sin, by the offering of love, of His Life on the Cross.

The Cross of torment and infamy, the Cross of condemnation, the supreme weapon of Roman justice at its harshest, becomes on Golgotha the glorious Cross of our Redemption. This object of fear becomes an object of supreme Love. Just when Jesus’ enemies thought they had put an end to the prophet by this humiliating death, the Cross marks the victory of Christ, the victory of Life over death and sin. What had been desolation becomes light and strength. Never let us forget, dear Pilgrims, that the Cross was the sole goal of the Incarnation of the Word. Let us meditate, with St Paul that the divine Word took on the condition of a slave in making Himself a man, and that He chose to die the dreadful death of a rebellious slave in order to make out of it the sign that would attract all men to Him.

Jesus is taken down from the Cross
As evening was drawing in, and Jesus was dead, His body was to be returned to His Mother. Before that, the Centurion pierces the Sacred Heart, and blood and water flow out from it. The Sacramental Life finds its source on the Cross, and then, in reality ‘they will look upon the one Whom they have pierced.’ It is that pierced corpse that is given back to the Virgin of Sorrows. Mary had already suffered with her humiliated Son on the Via Dolorosa. Their meeting has both comforted them and made them suffer. Mary was transfixed by her grief: her soul was pierced like the body of her God, but she did not allow despair to overcome her, nor her emotions to over-ride her Faith. It was her Faith that supported Our Lady. In her alone was there a Faith that did not waver at the foot of the Cross. Mary receives the body of her Son as it is taken down from the Cross. She takes Him in her arms, just as she did in His infancy and childhood. Overcome with maternal love, giving a Mother’s final farewell to her Son, yet in her depths, Mary awaited the Resurrection of the Incarnate Word. A mixture of grief and of Hope, of sorrow and of Faith, in which the Virgin’s virtue overcomes her emotions.

The Placing in the Tomb
It is time, now, to bury the corpse before nightfall. Joseph of Arimathea offers a new sepulchre nearby for the burial of Jesus The rituals of burial will be finished after the Sabbath, by Mary Magdalen and other holy women. That is also a sign that Christ, though He is dead, will not remain so. This tomb will be the sole witness of the Resurrection. The stone rolled across the entrance marks the apparent victory of the Enemy and the guards are there to make sure the body does not disappear. Everything is done to ensure that the Sanhedrin’s intentions are accomplished. No human interventions could make that body disappear: it would take God to resuscitate it…


Jonathan Marshall said...

I don't know about you, Ben, but although all the meditations on this year's pilgrimage were very good I found this one particularly excellent - graphic, moving and salutary.

Ben Trovato said...

Yes, both I and my children found this a powerful and moving meditation.